Friday, 20 January 2012

A Tale As Old As Time…IN THREEE-DEEEEE!!! (A Rant about Beauty and the Beast in 3D)

This past week I was able to step inside a time capsule and revisit an old animated gem. And here’s my thoughts on seeing it again for the first time since the 90s, and my thoughts on Disney’s trend of 3D rereleases. 
Originally released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast is probably one of Disney’s most prestigious animated films. It’s considered by many to be the crowning gem in Disney’s animation renaissance of the 90s, and for a long time held the honour of being the only animated film to be nominated for the best picture Oscar (until Pixar’s Up in 2010.) And now, after the success of The Lion King’s 3D efforts,Beauty and the Beast returns publicly to theatres after over two decades of its release. And it’s a good thing too, cause I actually haven’t seen the film since I was a kid!
I still loved watching it, but I was surprised. Perhaps it was the goggles of childhood nostalgia, but many of the reasons I loved the film now changed from the reasons I loved the film as a kid.
So…what more is there really to say about this movie? It’s the same animated tale that was released years ago, after all. And chances are if you’re reading this you’re already familiar with the source material. So instead of actually “reviewing” said film, I felt like I should just mention some of my passing thoughts while enjoying this particular screening.
I suppose the first thing that came to my mind is “wow…this film feels old.” Not in that the story doesn’t hold up, but rather that you would never, ever see a new flick like this in theatres nowadays. Case in point: our leading lady. Belle, while being perhaps a bit more independent then previous Disney princesses, surprisingly still feels very much the easily frightened damsel of bygone years of Disney’s golden past. That’s something I didn’t remember noticing when I was a kid. Maybe it’s the fact that since Belle we’ve had princesses who are even more self reliant, such as the titular Mulan and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. But rather than seeing the character as a big step forward for women characters in animation, like it was back then, looking backwards it’s surprising to see just how much she has in common from princesses of Disney’s golden era, like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. It’s not a bad thing, and I kind of like how it pays homage to the fairy tale princess archetype that Disney set before this, only making Belle a more proactive version of the archetype. Again, not bad, but just something that didn’t really cross my mind seeing this as a kid. 
Speaking of things that I liked as a kid, let’s talk about the side characters, specifically Lumiere and Cogsworth. As a kid, I was crazy about these characters and my love for them probably went even so far as to cloud the whole movie with their presence. Their antics are still amusing, but now as an adult I’m able to appreciate other characters for their subtlety. The Beast’s emotional transition was much more interesting to me now. I was able to actually see Gaston’s transformation from a harmless (albeit, ignorant) brute to a full fledged, bloodthirsty villain. And suddenly, these side characters that completely populated the movie as a kid were put…well…to the side. And I guess that just speaks volumes to classic Disney and it’s ability to craft well rounded stories that both kids and adults can enjoy, but now I can see first hand that they don’t have to enjoy it for the same reasons. It’s something that seems like a no brainer now, but experiencing it first hand was noteworthy. 
Ok, enough on looking back. I’m ignoring the big three dimensional elephant in the room and the one thing different about this screening. So, does the 3D really add anything? Well, in The Lion King’s 3D outing, there actually were some moments where the 3D really helped me get sucked into this world, such as the “Circle of Life” opening and the stampede scene. But that was about it. WithBeauty and the Beast there’s even less scenes that benefited from the 3D “enhancements.” I already found hand-drawn animation with 3D effects a bit odd, like someone holding a piece of paper infront of another piece of paper, but I’m sure weather or not a film would benefit from 3D didn’t even factor why they chose this film (and others on it’s way, like The Little Mermaid) to get the 3D treatment. So let’s call this rerelease of classic Disney movies with 3D upgrades out for what it really is: a cash grab. Disney is the master of milking old titles to get the maximum amount of profit from them (with George Lucas being a close second.) With 3D, Disney has another excuse to rerelease old movies to new audiences. I see both good and bad things that can come out from that. 
Let’s start with the bad: adding 3D to a movie does not automatically make it a better movie. That’s something I wish Hollywood would understand. The best uses of 3D are films that have, since the beginning of their development, decided to be done in 3D. That way, the choices made during the film’s development directly effects the use of 3D and the audience’s viewing experience (great examples are movies like AvatarHugo and Coraline.) The problem with adding 3D effects to a completed movie not made with 3D in mind is that you have no idea if the 3D would benefit it at all. In the end three things could happen: scenes could benefit from the 3D, scenes could be worsened by the 3D, or the 3D doesn’t do anything in particularly special. Beauty and the Beast falls into this third category easily, but depending on what movie they’re adding 3D to, it’s still just a crap shoot. I could go on and on about my thoughts on 3D in animation, but I won’t (at least not today.) So I’ll leave the subject for now with this thought: if 3D wants to be seen as more than just a gimmick, we need to start seeing it as less of an add-on and more as its own separate medium.
Now the good part about this 3D rerelease is, and it might seem like not much, but it’s the fact that it gives an excuse to bring this movie back. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the 3D pull, Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t get another worldwide theatrical rerelease like this. And I think that’s very important. There are many kids who probably have never seen a classic Disney musical like this. And even though it’s in “3D” let’s not forget that the animation itself is still 2D, and any excuse to get 2D animation back in theatres is a good excuse in my book. Maybe these types of events by Disney will inspire more traditional animated movies to be made in the future. Only time will tell. 
Overall, yeah, Beauty and the Beast is still awesome. Would I have seen a 2D version last week in theatres if I had the choice? Probably. But the 3D wasn’t distracting, and regardless it was well worth revisiting this epic tale, finding new things I enjoyed about it, and reminding myself why Disney is still regarded as on the finest animation companies in the world.
Now, here’s an amusing picture!
- Moo